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School worshippers: no longer being ‘done to’

by
20 May 2010

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From Mr Neil Spencer

Sir, — I read with interest the recent letters about school worship (23 April and 7 May). My experi­ence is very different from that of both the Revd John Caperon and the Revd Geoffrey Squire, whose com­ments seem symptomatic of the attitude of some of the clergy to Church of England schools, in that they seem to regard schools as an extension of their own somewhat narrow perception of Church.

As far as many secondary-school pupils are concerned, the clergy are a benign irrelevance or source of curiosity. But school worship, when done by pupils and staff rather than to pupils and staff, can be mean­ingful to the whole school community.

We have carried out research at my school over the past three years. We were aware that our worship was not meeting the needs of our pupils and staff; so we took it upon ourselves to examine what went on during our eucharists, held at least twice per term. The research indicated that the traditional format based on Common Worship and conducted by a member of the clergy was not fit for the pur­pose.

With the assistance of a Farm­ington Fellowship award, we carried out surveys and looked at what we were trying to do when we gather for a school eucharist. Research was also carried out by a sixth-form student as part of her A-level extended project.

As a result, we have developed a eucharistic service in which pupils and staff play a significant part. Pupils lead the service, administer the sacrament, preach the sermon, and pray the intercessions. This not only gives them ownership of what is going on, but has encouraged several to think about their own vocation.

Comments from pupils have been favourable. Many have said how much it has strengthened and nurtured their own faith, given them a sense of purpose, and encouraged them to explore the Christian faith for themselves. Both the school chaplain and visiting clergy who are asked to consecrate the elements have found the service refreshing, and say how much they have enjoyed the experience of worshipping with us.

Our school worship is not perfect; our liturgy might not be acceptable to the purists; our theology might be regarded as suspect; but what we have is a worshipping school community. Modifying our school worship is a work in progress. We believe, however, that we have taken a leap forward that is worth telling other schools and churches about.

Development of school worship is a quiet process unnoticed by the wider Church, but it has had a positive impact on the lives of our pupils and staff. I believe that our school is on the way to becoming mission-shaped rather than church-shaped, because this work has been done by our school community rather than to it.

Should any readers wish to know more about our project, they can contact me at the school.

NEIL SPENCER
Head of Religious Studies and Collective Worship
St Hilda’s C of E High School
Croxteth Drive, Sefton Park
Liverpool L17 3AL

NEIL SPENCER
Head of Religious Studies and Collective Worship
St Hilda’s C of E High School
Croxteth Drive, Sefton Park
Liverpool L17 3AL

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